By: Sean Cartell
SEC Digital Network
Editor’s Note: Course Chronicles will run each Wednesday on the SEC Digital Network during the SEC Cross Country season.
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – We’re embarking on an important week in Southeastern Conference cross country action, as 13 of the league’s 14 teams will be in competition, including seven teams at the Commodore Classic in Nashville.
The Commodore Classic is an important meet for several reasons. It takes place at Percy Warner Park, site of the 2012 SEC Cross Country Championships and gives participating teams a good opportunity to become familiar with the course they will be running on Oct. 26. It also will be the first big meet featuring head-to-head matchups between some of the SEC’s top teams. Teams will walk away with a better idea of where they stand at this time with relation to the league, and have their first look at other conference squads and athletes.
This past weekend featured a light slate of action with the Auburn men and women and the Arkansas women being the only teams to take to the course. Still, it wasn’t without its share of impressive performances, which I will review in this column.
Also on Tuesday, the first U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association poll of the 2012 regular season was released. Three SEC men’s teams and three SEC women’s teams are ranked among the nation’s top-30 according to that poll. Of note, the SEC placed two women’s teams – Vanderbilt and Arkansas – in the national top-10.
It doesn’t matter what sport you’re talking about, achieving a perfect score is quite the impressive achievement.
That’s exactly what the Arkansas women’s cross country team did this past weekend at the adidas/UCI Invitational in Irvine, Calif. The Razorbacks tallied a perfect score of 15 to claim a victory among the field of 14 teams. Each of Arkansas’ six scoring runners finished within approximately 10 seconds of one another to sweep the top six spots.
I talked last week about the youth of Arkansas’ team and how those young athletes have carried on the rich tradition of the program. That was on display this weekend in the Golden State. Of the top-six Arkansas finishers, five were sophomores or freshmen. The lone upperclassman, the race’s winner, was Semehar Tesfaye, is new to the Razorbacks after transferring from Iowa State.
Fittingly, Tesfaye was named the SEC Women’s Runner of the Week, while the race’s runner-up, Andrina Schlaepfer, was named the SEC Women’s Freshman Runner of the Week. Arkansas moved up two spots in this week’s USTFCCCA poll to No. 9.
Here’s what may be more impressive, Arkansas was the only non-west coast team competing in the meet in which it dominated. Even after a long plane flight, the Razorback runners put on a show. That bodes well for them later in the season.
All eyes will be on the Vanderbilt women this season to see if they will continue the momentum from a year ago. Last year, the Commodores claimed their first-ever SEC Championship and placed sixth at the NCAA Championships in their inaugural appearance at the national meet.
Vanderbilt lost Louise Hannallah and Alexa Rogers, two seniors who played critical roles in building the program, to graduation following last season, but the Commodores have reloaded and are currently ranked No. 6 in the nation, according to the latest USTFCCCA poll.
And there’s added motivation to continue their success this season – Vanderbilt plays host to the 2012 SEC Cross Country Championships and would like nothing more than to defend their title on their home course.
In speaking with VU head coach Steve Keith for a profile I wrote on him last month, he admitted that thought has been on his mind for a while now.
“At the beginning of last year, I said that I wanted to host the conference meet as defending championships,” Keith told me in that story. “We got our wish there. We’ve gotten some nice improvements at the cross country course and we just finished building two new bridges. Upgrading our facilities has been fun with the success of our program. We have enough returning from last year where they respect the challenges within the conference and I also know that if they can run together as they have in the past, they can be in the mix.”
In its first meet of the season – the Belmont Opener – Vanderbilt took home the team title, placing four runners in the top-10 individually. Hannah Jumper captured the individual crown at that meet and she currently ranks second in the SEC in women’s 4K times with a season-best mark of 14:09.10.
We will get a better indication of Vanderbilt’s 2012 abilities this weekend, but the two teams expected to challenge the Commodores for the league title – Arkansas and Florida – will not be among the Commodore Classic field. Still, Vandy is expected to get a strong test on the women’s side from the rest of the field, particularly Georgia.
Auburn was the only SEC men’s team to compete last weekend, playing host to the Auburn Invitational. Sophomore Kane Grimster came away with his second career victory and earned SEC Men’s Runner of the Week honors.
Grimster, a native of Victoria, Australia, turned in a personal-best 6K time of 19:03.80 to lead all runners in the meet. That time currently goes down as the third-best 6K time in the SEC so far this season.
During the 2012 track and field season, Grimster was the runner-up in the mile at the SEC Indoor Championships and placed fourth in the 3K, as well as running on Auburn’s distance medley relay team during the season.
Entering his second season with the Tigers, Grimster has continued to show steady improvement after placing 14th at last season’s SEC Cross Country Championships. He was one of only two freshmen men in the top-20 at the NCAA South Regional.
It is setting up to be an exciting weekend in SEC Cross Country. If you are looking for an early preview of the SEC Championships, head over to Nashville on Saturday to check out the Commodore Classic for a great day of racing.
Until next time.